Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Waving Goodbye

By yesterday afternoon I was exhausted and over- whelmed. Packing and making decisions about what to do with "stuff" were taking their toll. I realized I was doing the classic add-on. I wasn't just tired, I was "I am so exhausted what if I can't finish all of this, what if I get sick. Why can't I just go with the flow? Why can't I just enjoy this? And yada, yada, yada." In my head I know better and yet the siren's song of habit beckons. It lures me on to do it the way I have always done it. And that was yesterday.

This morning brought fresh energy and the opportunity to start over. Less add-ons. More just doing. More things flung into the give-away bag and the pot-luck potlach boxes. Tomorrow some friends are having a little "leaving town" pot luck for us. I thought I would take along a couple of boxes of the more interesting treasures I am parting with and let people see if any of it calls to go home with them. I thought it might be a fun end to the evening. Not quite a potlach but a nod in that direction, perhaps that pottery cookie jar might find a new cookie baker to keep company or the Christmas tea pot might settle in to a new cupboard.

On other chapters that required closure.... Yesterday I drove by the place where my homeless friend had her camper parked. She was gone, without a trace. In the past several weeks I had run out of ideas and energy to offer. I had to turn my attention to my own moving. Last Tuesday when I'd stopped by her camper was still there but she wasn't home. And now I was left wondering, what had happened, where did she go? As is the human tendency I expected her to still be there doing the same thing. When I found her gone I worried she had been towed away against her will. The thought crossed my mind that I could have done more. I reminded myself I didn't need to feel like I'd let her down.

And then this evening the phone rang. She remembered that soon I would be gone too, from my home, from my phone number, that she might not have any way of contacting me. She called to let me know she had taken her insurance settlement and found a bed and breakfast room in a nearby town. She wasn't clear what her next step was, but all the avenues we pursued that lead nowhere showed her that it was time to leave Victoria. Her settlement allowed her to pay off a sizable debt that she owed and now she could move on. She said that if we never met again she wanted me to know that I had been helpful to her on her journey.

All this was said with such humility and a sense of wisdom. Sometimes during the process she had just seemed confused and indecisive to me, but here she was at her best, speaking from a deep place of clarity and kindness. When she said she didn't know what was next and was simply waiting to see what came up, it reminded me of a true Dharma practitioner. And like a mindful practitioner she was taking care not to create a further wake of karma, by calling me and bringing closure to the little part of the journey we'd traveled together. She was, in essence, pausing at a fork in the road up a head and waving good bye. It was all spoken like a true Bodhisattva, with gratitude, humility, clarity and a recognition of our place in the cosmos, one where we do our part, but are not the conductor of this little travel plan. It felt good to know she was safe and dry and had taken the next step. She offered me her love and blessings on my journey and I to her, in return. A little sad, a little sweet, a little puzzling, like many of our encounters in this life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Meeting of Buddhas

Buddhas have gathered on the dining room table in preparation for moving. Even in this collection of statues, you can appreciate their different Buddha energies. I had never really noticed this before they decided to gather . If my father were alive he would probably wander through the dining room and say something like, "they look like they're waiting for a bus."

When I look at them I can appreciate the solid, grounded, earthiness of the large concrete one, in a way I never noticed before. The smaller ones in the foreground seem delicate and deeply serene, especially the one I painted in a bronze-like finish. And then there is my fat, happy, orange Buddha. What can I say? He always makes me smile. And I love the way the sunlight bounces off his shiny orangeness. And then there is the delicate brass Thai style Buddha, sitting on the ginger grater shyly in the background.

The moving Buddhas remind me of the changes swirling around. Sometimes I can go with it and sometimes I am trying to hang on like a kid on a merry-go-round. Sometimes I just feel a little terrified and want to pull the covers up over my head. Although we won't be far away I am starting to look wistfully at the landscape of the city. Yesterday we remembered that we have lived here in this city for 30 years! Where do the days go? No wonder the Buddha told us "to work out our salvation with diligence." We so easily drift along in the dream of time, imagining it as endless or not thinking about it at all.

The first boxes of things will make their way to Salt Spring today as we go over to visit and finalize the details on the home we will rent starting in April. Impermanence is busting out all over. Boxes are everywhere. Little piles of chaos inhabit many surfaces. What to do with this? Or that? Many objects have made their way to various new homes. Beware of the approaching me, I will try to give you some stuff! Lots of movement. And outdoors is no different, the daffodils are filling the yard and ornamental cherry and plum trees are in full blossom. The new crocosmia are shooting up through the old brown dried ones from last fall. They are fine with that. The old mixing with the new. The new pushing effortlessly and perkily forward. Perhaps I should take my cue from them. No problem, just new life replacing old as it always does. Drop the story and be free!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things Get Broken

Here are the 2 panels of a recent work. These paintings are definitely working for their keep; each has been posted separately and now here they are together. I guess I can't really say they are working for their keep as the real flesh and board paintings are on their way to New York right now. So no keeping.

Victoria has been treated to some well known Dharma teachers/visitors lately which is nice for this little, slightly off the track island. We saw Brad Warner in January and Reginald Ray several weeks ago and on Tuesday night we went to hear Susan Piver at the Shambhala Centre.

She was here talking about her new book, "The Wisdom of a Broken Heart". The broken heart she speaks of has to do with romantic love as you probably guessed. And while I listened to her talk I thought there are lots of things that can "break your heart". Illness can break your heart, the death of your child can break your heart, life can break your heart. There are many things that can break you open in this way, I suspect. She said that her book is really summed up by Pema Chodron when she says, "feel the feelings, drop the story".

And again this instruction can relate to all of life's circumstances but we are always challenged by the difficult ones, the ones that make us crazy and confused, the ones that make it hard to sit still. She reminded us that the story is all the add-ons we like to conjure up in our little mental wizard's bowl, the what ifs, and if onlys, we like to stir about.

She talked about the obsessiveness she experienced, how everything seemed to revolve around the loss of this loved one and the shame that accompanied it; how in her mind it confirmed her unworthiness. And she searched everywhere for either confirmation or denial of this, in the smallest acts of the day.

But Piver takes the Buddhist view on a broken heart. She sees it as an opportunity to grow and and work with life. She discovered that in our culture we are always wanting love, always trying to get love. All the relationship books are about finding love (and mostly aimed at women). She looked deeply into the eyes of this and found that wanting love in many ways is about wanting security, and comfort and protection. And she, interestingly, points out, that in the act of falling in love whole heartedly we actually give up control.

She talked about loving kindness and how she found that the path to finding love is to give it. This of course is an integral part to every buddhist practice, perhaps every practice of humanistic principles. Want to experience generosity, be generous, want to experience kindness, offer kindness.

She had a lovely genuine, grounded presence. She was funny and honest and gentle and her talk felt like a true offering. I suspect this book would be very helpful for anyone struggling with the challenge of a dissolving or dissolved relationship that is still tugging at the heart strings.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Behind You With A Knife

What is the colour of half a Buddha painting? Why green, of course if he/she's gone into the forest (and if I get to choose the colours!) He will of course, be offering a small blessing in the right hand corner which translates as "May all beings everywhere be happy and free". The Om Mani Padme Hum mantra is tucked away in small letters on the Buddha's robes and bordering the blue panel on the right. It has been fun doing this special request as it's kind of a collaboration between the buyer and painter. I added elements that I might not have thought of myself but I got to contemplate and interpret. I actually like the panels separated rather than pushed against each other. Is that some strange subliminal comment on the self??

The koan of daily life has been interesting this past month. If I was living in a little Zen parable it might go something like this: Someone very hungry asks me for food. Something in me immediately responds to the request and begins to prepare a meal. I'm not thinking. I'm just cooking. It seems this is what needs to be done. I ask the hungry person what they need to eat and get an idea, not really clear, but I think I know. I bring them the food. It is not right and they explain why. It makes sense to me and I go off to prepare another meal. I work hard. They are really hungry. It seems urgent. I feel the need, the pressure. I prepare meal number two. When I bring it to them, they have changed their mind again about what they need to quench their hunger. We go through this scenario 2 more times.

As the protagonist in this Zen parable I am a bit dense. The diner keeps moving the plate and I keep spilling the meal on the ground. I start to wonder if the diner is really hungry. And by meal number 4 I feel the anger rise. The diner has showed me the limits of my tolerance (good or bad). I see my expectations and attachment to them. I prepared them a meal, why don't they just eat? And even if they don't want it or like it, couldn't they express some gratitude or appreciation. And finally I think somehow I will save them from their hunger, help them put some deep seated need to rest by feeding them. I want to solve this problem, scratch some culinary itch.

By the end of our little chef and diner dance it is becoming clear, that I cannot satiate another's hunger. Perhaps the need goes deeper? Perhaps the diner is not asking for what is really needed? Perhaps the diner is really thirsty but expresses their need as hunger? Perhaps their request is beyond my ability? I am not a skilled enough chef. Perhaps I should offer the ingredients and leave them to put them together in a way that really works for them? In many ways there are more questions than answers flying around the kitchen.

At the same time I have learned that I still care about their hunger, that it is important to keep my heart open to them. I have learned about my expectations, not that they (the diner or the expectations) are bad, but that I experience suffering because I have expectations. I have learned that I need to keep my heart open to other hungry folks too, and not close the door to similar requests in the future because this one did not go the way I expected. Each diner and meal deserves to be considered on its own merit.

And the world is a hungry place, full of ingredients and ways to put them together, different foods & tastes, diners and cooks. It is not always as simple as we initially imagine. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience and experimentation. Sometimes it will work out deliciously and other times I might get something hot spattered in my eye. And in some cases I just need to order them take out and have it delivered.

To make a long story different, but equally long, I can tell you that I have experimented with some recipes that didn't exactly work out. And I have discovered it is always good to be on the learning end of the cutting board. Now as my daughter would say as she deftly moves around the kitchen: "behind you with a knife."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Paint A Starry Night Again

Does this look familiar? No it's not another slothful, shameless repost of recycled art. It actually is half of a new painting. It's a custom piece for someone who liked the colours and sentiments of the first, similar, but smaller work. This one is done on a 9"x12" cradled panel with more texture than the first work. I'll have to post the right hand side of the Buddha next time! I find myself drawn to work on board these days because I like how it can hold rough texturing of products like sludge and spackle and other mediums.

I feel a metaphor lurking in the sludgey shadows here. Somehow I am finding it is the roughness,craggy lines and bits of pattern that lend a texture to my work, a texture that adds character and richness, something extra to play with. Perhaps life's textured and rough spots do that too on a grander scale. (Forget the botox, kids, those lines add character!)

We often imagine how we'd like things to turn out, just to our liking; every day sunny, everyone agrees with us, we accomplish each challenge we face with ease. But life often has different plans and sometimes that's where we really develop vision and grow. We can become more compassionate, kinder humans sometimes, after we hit a few rough spots in the road. I heard an executive say one time that he never hires any upper management people that haven't had some sort of rough spot or failure in their life.

When I sit down with the empty board I never really know how a painting will work out, how one colour might show through another, how a rubbed off bit will add some interesting shading, how unexpected outcomes can improve the work (or how sometimes I have to wipe off and repeat and repeat, until things seem done). Life is like that too, good at showing us that ultimately we are not in control, that much is left to serendipity, karma and a bigger picture than our little self can imagine. It's process centred as opposed to results oriented. And sometimes it all takes practice, over and over and over.

So in the same flowing creek of thought that says, you can't stand in the same stream twice, so you can't paint the same painting twice. Working on a piece like this reminds me that we can't go backward, that the flow of life is always onward, and I get nervous when someone requests a specific piece. I have concerns about their expectations. And of course my little self worries that they won't like it. But there it is, practice in a nutshell. Just paint. It always makes me think of the Joni Mitchell quip when people are shouting out song requests to her on the live album "Miles of Aisles", "you know no one ever asked Van Gogh to paint "A Starry Night" again. I'm not so sure of that given the nature of our human tendency to go with the familiar, the known! And of course it is a compliment.

So that's what this little painting reminded me of as I worked away at it. It reminded me that it's all good, that I'm not in control and that I just need to do what needs to be done.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buddhist Fashion: Naked, Direct & Fearless

A week later Reggie Ray's talk is still rolling around like a little patchinko ball in my head. I am drawn deeply to that aspect of practice that encourages us to look inside for our direction, to have faith and trust our own inner whisperings. Something inside us knows "what is it good to do now". We don't need to read another book or hear another Dharma talk or make a 5 year plan. We come equipped with everything we need for our training, the koans & the map for exploring them.

I am interested in tuning my ear to the "still, small voice within " which is most often shouted down and ridiculed by the rather loud and overbearing voice of logic and reason. Not that the "thinking mind" is bad but I love RM Jiyu Kennett's comment that "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master." This goes against the mainstream western view of the world, the world of the expert, the material world of science and stuff.

And while I am drawn to this world of mystery and intuition, it is not my customary stomping ground. I am a stranger in this land, a new comer to these parts. I have cast a disparaging, raised eyebrow on this landscape in the past, dismissing it as the vacation land of new agers and airy fairy folk.

Ray also talked about how as hunter/gatherers, humans were deeply connected to the natural world and that with the advent of agriculture that relationship gradually weakened. It is also interesting to note that nutritional anthropologists mark the advent of agriculture as the starting point of chronic disease in humans. Disease of body and mind; are they connected? Today we not only find ourselves disconnected and disrespectful (my word) of the natural world but Ray comments that we are disembodied. We live mostly in our heads. He is not romanticizing or wishing for a return to the short and difficult life of hunter/gatherers but rather wondering if we might learn to relate to our inner and outer landscape in a more respectful and caring way.

These are the aspects of training that call to me strongly at this time, that make sense at a deep level. Last night I picked up my copy of Ray's book, "Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body". I will leave you with this quote from it : "Buddhism, in its most subtle and sophisticated expression, is not a tradition that seeks to provide answers to life's questions or to dispense "wisdom" to allay our fundamental angst. Rather, it challenges us to look beyond any and all answers that we may have found along the way, to meet ourselves in a naked, direct, and fearless fashion."